by on Feb.12, 2013, under Featured, Personal tips, Story, Writing

Your personal fall can be what drives you toward your professional win. As a story consultant, I like fiction that connects the central character’s personal wound to the professional outcome; their personal dilemma is tied to their professional dilemma, so that accomplishing the external goal signifies a win on both an internal and external level. For me, this is what drives story. When we understand why the central character wants the external goal and what is at stake if they don’t get it, we root for them to get what they want. If you learn how to apply this same concept to your life, you will be astounded by what kind of results you will see.

I’d like to give you an example of a recent film that I thought could have been even stronger if the personal dilemma of the character had been better connected to the professional outcome. In Zero Dark Thirty, written by Mark Boal, the dilemma is 9/11. The goal is to get Osama bin Laden. The lead character is Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA operative who is in pursuit of the whereabouts of Al Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden. My question is why her? What is motivating her character to want to achieve this goal on an emotional level? How is her personal dilemma connected to the professional outcome? For me, this is something that could have made this great movie even stronger than it is.

In the new TV series, The Americans, written by Joe Weisberg, the personal dilemma/wound is strongly connected to the professional outcome. We learn early on in the pilot episode that Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) is a KGB agent in pursuit of an ex-KGB Colonel who is a whistle blower on undercover agents. When Elizabeth and her husband Phillip (Matthew Rhys) apprehend him, they miss the ship that was their chance to complete the mission and hand him back to Russia. This is the professional dilemma. The goal that stems from this is to figure out what to do with the Colonel in order to complete their mission. Elizabeth wants to kill him. Through a flash back, we discover the personal wound driving her to achieve the professional goal: When Elizabeth was training as an agent in Russia, the Colonel took advantage of his position and raped her. This is an excellent script and pilot episode. This story really moves because we know why the central character is in pursuit of the professional goal and what the personal stakes are if it is not achieved.

In your life, I want you to think about how you can do this to add fuel to the fire of your professional goal. Have your life turns caused you to move away from your goal because of the scars they’ve left behind? Learn how you can connect this wound and use it to motivate you toward a new professional goal. By using what you lost to propel you further, there is no end to what you can accomplish.

In my own life, I lost a job after 15 years with two sister companies. It was a big fall for me that was very unexpected. After learning how to take inventory of what happened, I learned how to use this loss to move forward instead of falling victim to my fall. I knew what my strength was as a studio executive, my notes on story. I used this strength and designed a business around it. Since my personal story was a large part of what led to my new professional goal (i.e., teaching story on a global level to stop isolation and create community), I learned how to link the loss I went through to this professional outcome. This year, five years after opening my own company, I taught in London with The TV Writers Summit and I am about to go to Australia to teach the TV Writers Studio. I achieved my professional goal by linking my personal wound/dilemma and using it to propel me forward instead of hold me back.

In my upcoming book, Change Your Story, Change Your Life: A Path To Your Success, I teach, based on the concept of life imitating art, how we can learn from fiction, and how we can apply it to our own lives so that when we go through a turning point and experience a fall, we can get back up and use the fall to achieve a professional goal that can enrich our lives more than we ever imagined. We can become the active hero in our own story.

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2 Comments for this entry

  • Todd Chipman

    I found this particular post truly inspiring and one I could relate to on both a personal and professional level, as you so brilliantly put it. 14 months ago, I completed a mostly successful career in the Navy and retired as a Navy Commander after rising through the ranks from an enlisted Navy Seaman. I say mostly sucessful because I was diagnosed with Bipolar II during my last year in the Navy and struggled through depressive episodes for the past 8 years I was in the Navy. The stigma of having a mental disease was embarassing on both a personal and a professional level, but especially on a professional level. My dilemma has been to find peace with having this disease and then have the courage to not be a victim to it, ask for help, and then continue treatment. In the military, asking for help is a sign of weakness and that is the central problem with so many of our military people who struggle with mental diseases and trauma brought on by years of living through combat. I am inspired to write about this dilemma in a story because of how you so clearly articulated how to bring the personal and professional dilemmas together. Perhaps there will be many other people who have served in the military who can be helped and realize it is OK to get help as a result. Time to get writing. Thanks so much for posting this Jen!

  • Jennifer


    Thank you so much for your post. I am grateful for your openness.

    I applaud you for wanting to be treated and manager what you have going on. I’ve worked with lots of writers that are bi-polar. The page is a beautiful place for sanctuary.

    Thank you for your service! We are all very appreciative!

    You are a gift.


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